We’re only a few days into August, but I’ve already received a fair number of out-of-office messages from people who appear to have taken the whole month off work.
The UK is increasingly embracing the habits of our continental European neighbours in this respect. But not everyone is enjoying some much needed R&R. It’s becoming increasingly common for professionals to take a sabbatical to find the answers to deeper career questions.
The concept has long been common in the academic world, but as the war for talent rages, it is now taking off in professional workplaces.
One recruiter recently told me job interviews are not about employers choosing the best candidates any more — it’s the other way around.
As a result, more companies are offering sabbaticals as a “work perk”. Digital bank Monzo recently told its 2,200 employees they could take a three-month sabbatical on full pay for every four years worked.
Other employers might be more likely to grant unpaid leave, giving staff the chance to take an extended holiday, learn a new skill, write a book, do some voluntary work or simply press the pause button and work out their next career move — all with the financial security of having a job to come back to.
You might return happy and rejuvenated, or decide you want to quit and try a whole new career — but the recruitment market is so hot right now, it’s a risk more employers are willing to take.
So should you seize your chance and ask for one? Let’s consider the financial pros and cons.
On the Money Clinic podcast this week, I met 34-year-old Ali, a sports-mad human resources professional who wants to take a three to six-month break after she finishes her MBA next year.
She could take her future career in any number of different directions, but has been far too busy earning a living to contemplate what the ultimate rewards could be.
Financial planner Jo Little advises Ali to “start with the end in mind” by looking at her regular financial commitments, and working how much she’d have to save to fund six months’ worth of these.
Then there’s the cost of what she’d actually do on sabbatical — travel will be the biggest expense for most people.
It’s possible you could offset some of these costs by, say, renting out your home on Airbnb while you’re off gallivanting in the Galápagos. You could also ask for flexibility with your mortgage repayments and pension contributions, although this could cost you in the long run.
If the reward is a more fulfilling career, you might feel this is an acceptable trade-off. But it pays to do some research before you ask the question.
Emma Rosen, author of The Radical Sabbatical, says she is currently inundated with messages from people who are preparing to do just that. “You’re much more likely to get a ‘yes’ from larger organisations, who increasingly have official policies, but in smaller firms, it will probably come down to the whim of individual managers,” she says.
A few years ago, she quit her corporate job and tried out 25 different “jobs” in the space of one year (she admits this was “quite extreme” but it makes for a great read).
“People think it’s more important to have a purpose and a cause behind what you do than ever before,” she says.
Readers eager to prise themselves free from corporate life should take a look at the website Escape the City (motto: life’s too short to do work that doesn’t matter to you). Its website and weekly emails flag up an array of opportunities with purpose-driven start-ups, charities and social impact organisations in the UK and beyond.
Search filters include “jobs in exotic locations” and those that are “predominantly remote” (big savings on travel to the office). It even has a guide to being a digital nomad for those who want to work from anywhere, and runs courses and events to help inspire your search.
The problem is that the kind of careers that tend to be more rewarding and fulfilling also tend to be less well paid.
You might be in a position financially where you can afford to do something different. Alternatively, the combination of a large mortgage and rising interest rates could mean going woke will send you broke. You need to think about these financial realities well before embarking on an unpaid sabbatical.
Rosen’s advice to those considering a career change is to have plenty of networking conversations before you even think of taking a sabbatical (“either in your lunch break, or by taking some annual leave to job shadow someone”). She stresses it’s just as valuable to cross off opportunities you definitely don’t want to pursue as you narrow the options.
Again, it pays to start with the end in mind — how much money could you earn?
There are a growing number of tech start-ups attempting to answer this question, including the Wouldyouratherbe.com website.
If you have roughly 20 minutes and £20 to spare, input your qualifications and previous job titles into its AI-driven algorithm, then answer a series of quick-fire questions (“Would you rather be a book-keeper or a zookeeper?”) At the end of the process, it will suggest a range of alternative careers and identify your transferable skills.
Apparently, I’m ideally suited to becoming a financial adviser or a therapist (I did have a chuckle at this — thankfully, writer and radio presenter were also in there). Helpfully, the website also guides how long it might take you to retrain, the cost of qualifications and the likely salary range.
The algorithm is not foolproof (tax inspector? No thanks) but if you’re in a career quandary, it could be a good foundation for further research.
I would also recommend that you talk to some headhunters. In a hot recruitment market, training could be provided on the job for the right candidate — and you might be surprised how competitive some industries have become.
I was told by a contact last week that financial advisory firms are so eager to employ female advisers, the right candidates can command a 30 per cent premium.
It hasn’t tempted me to swap my pen for a calculator — but never say never.
Rising life expectancy and dwindling retirement savings mean we all need to face up to the reality of having to work for longer. Retraining or investing in acquiring new skills could future-proof your earnings potential.
Instead of thinking if we can afford to take some time out to think about these things, we should ask ourselves if we can afford not to.
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